Fiction: Unmoored

I liked watching the planes fly.

They just seemed so magical, like they were suspended by wires nobody could see, even though I knew the magic was called “physics.” At first I imagined them held up by the wires, then held down by the wires, like their natural expression was to be set free, to fly away somewhere unknown.

They weren’t magic. They were machines, fueled by chemistry and economics.

I fixed it. I figured out a way to correct quantum entanglement and superposition. Apply a magnetic field at the right position and the right frequency, and you could reliably determine the position of an electron at any given moment.

It was an accident. But it opened up quantum computing, as a first outcome, and then a mere two and a half years later, we created a balance of a milligram of lead. One moment it was in our offices at 306 Apple, and thirty minutes later room 201 was staring, unbelieving, at a block of grey metal that had been three city blocks away.

A year later, we’d sent an amoeba, and stared with wonder and not a small amount of fear as it swam uncaring, under a microscope. My team and I had created not only a reliable way to know the universe in a way Heisenberg had dreamed of and denied, but we’d created a workable transportation device. Alan, the youngest member of the team, was always making whining noises that he imagined invoked the old Star Trek TV shows, even though we shushed him to try to respect the moment.

At first it was prohibitively expensive, because nobody trusted the technology – it was like magic, you know? First something is here, then it’s there, and all it took was synchronized quanta. They didn’t understand that the quanta defined everything, that the synchronization was the key that unlocked the door.

The question was asked: What was the door? Oh, it was nearly everything, as it turned out. If you could predict the quantum reaction, you could manipulate it. A cardinal was shocked as we sent a pound of lead into the system, and out came a pound of gold. For us it was almost a joke, because at the quantum level we merely adjusted and filtered, tweaked and nudged.

With the quantum computers unlocked, we could fix DNA. A child with a genetic defect came to us; we knew it was the AC4E receptors that would kill her before she saw her first birthday. But we’d sent nemotodes through, and even a kitten, and I will remember the kitten’s stare for the rest of my life as it tasted sweetness for its species for the first time in a thousand generations.

The child was a risk, but the child was dead without extreme measures. We programmed the computers, and sent the child through a replica of the first transporter, from 306 Apple to 201. Alexa drank water without vomiting for the first time that day… and would never suffer from her genetic anomaly again.

The key to human health had been found, and all it took was the desire to communicate over distances.

It unlocked planetary travel: we sent an unmanned lander with synchronized quanta to Titan, and four days later heavily suited humans walked on the surface of a moon nobody would have imagined traveling to in their lifetimes: one hour they were on Earth, the next, walking on a crust of methane on an impossibly hostile world. And seven days later, they were back home, stunned at the import of what they’d done, but safe and sound.

And the planes disappeared from the sky.

The wires that held them up still existed, but were unused, unneeded. And I found that they were more than mass transit, more than here to there, more than noise, more than movement: they were what had kept me alive.

Everything exists.

One of the things I’ve had to learn over time – and that I’ve learned poorly, I should add – is that everything, everything, exists.

It might not exist in the sense of being real, I suppose; it might exist only in the imagination. It might not even exist in the “real world” in the sense that you think of it – I might think of the ball being red, but it’s actually blue when it’s on the floor. Yet the red ball exists, along with the blue ball; one is my concept, the other is the reality.

It’s not that everything that exists is also real, if you define real as being concretely realized.

What got me thinking about this was my introversion and my learned responses to it.

I’m in a number of small communities, loosely associated by interest. This one’s about programming, that one’s about politics, this one’s psychology, that one’s science, this one’s religion, that one’s writing.

I’m in a lot of communities, for someone as introverted as I am, I think.

But what I’ve noticed is that as I’ve become more… normalized in these communities, based on their acceptance of me and my quirks and how much I decide to trust them, I actually end up trying to “show up,” manifested as what I think is an overreaction to my own introversion.

I try to respond to whatever there is to respond to, to show that someone’s listening, someone’s caring, someone’s there.

It creates a massive burden on me, because I end up feeling responsible for a response even when someone else listens, or cares, or whatever. I feel like if I don’t respond like I would if no-one else was around, then I’m sending a signal that I don’t care when I certainly still do.

(I pay attention to the maxim to be who you are as if no-one else was looking.)

But… the thing is, people exist in a continuum without me. If they never knew I existed, their lives would be just as full; I am not arrogant enough to think that their lives are somehow more complete because I am there. I try to contribute, sure; I try to leave their lives littered with whatever benefits I can grant, but to say that their lives were less before I entered… no.

It’s very much a struggle for me, to let go, even though I desperately want to. This impulse is who I am, certainly, but it’s from the Sitra Achra, the other side, and does no-one any good; I may not be God’s gift to humanity, but everyone is God’s gift to each other, and I have a responsibility to try to bring good into the world.

And at some point I need to find a balance where I am able to acknowledge that existence exists, and I am part of it, and it’s okay.

Transactions in Relationships

I recently offered some advice on relationships to someone, with the preface that I knew it was unasked-for and based on my own experience. I don’t know how good the advice actually is, but it has the ring of value – and given my own interactions, it’s clear how it governs how I relate to people in many spheres, and represents one reason why people relate to me really oddly.

My advice is this: live as if the people around you are transactional, and live as if you yourself are not… but the caveat is that you get to be transactional when the imbalance is too great.


Transactional living is basically like keeping score. I do something nice for you, that’s a transaction in which you get something (the “something nice”) and I am owed … something. Maybe it’s a kind word. Maybe it’s a hug. Maybe it’s a returned favor in the future… it really doesn’t matter. The concept here is simple: value for value. I give to you, you give to me in return.

Books have been written – good ones, and a lot of them – about these topics, both about transactionality itself (Willard Harley has a number of books about this, as an example) and the nature of the transactions themselves (one might be Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages.”)

Harley’s idea is that of a “love bank,” where you have an implicit and vague reservoir that has a measure of your internal gratitude for others. He wrote mostly about romantic relationships, but it applies to anyone – that person you meet on the street has their own reservoir in your head.

At first, your feelings about this random person might be neutral, but maybe you like how the person dresses, or how they hold a child’s hand, or something – and that builds up a positive interaction for you. So you smile and wave at them when they look at you, to reward them in some small, cost-free way, for being valuable to you… somehow.

In personal relationships, it gets a lot more serious: when your significant other makes a dinner you enjoy, or you do the dishes unasked-for, or what-have you. Relationships, romantic and otherwise, are composed of long series’ of interactions, things you do for them and things they do for you. Do nice things, the things they recognize as valuable (thus the “Five Love Languages,” mentioned earlier) and they build up a positive feeling for you, and when they do things you recognize as valuable, you build up a positive feeling for them, and the wheel rolls on.

Do things that hurt them, and you empty the reservoir a bit. Do enough things that hurt them, and their reservoir empties; not only do they stop doing nice things for you, but maybe they resent you and eventually abandon the relationship.

The “things that hurt them” don’t even have to be intentional. The “love languages” play in really well here; the things you think are wonderful and kind might not serve the person you’re interacting with. If they need someone to play tennis with, and yet you’re handing them trinkets for their house, you’re “serving them” but not in a way they need, and in fact they might be looking at the trinkets with the thought that you keep trying to crowd their living space with useless doodads.

This is how most people live their entire lives, as a series of implicit and mostly-accidental transactions with everyone around them, hour after hour.

Often, they don’t realize it… and even when they do, they don’t always understand what they want from others, and they don’t think of how living transactionally places a burden on them to return value for those transactions.

The Advice

Living transactionally is natural; you want to value others so you yourself are valued. That’s very much a part of human nature; you reward good behavior, you punish bad behavior; those feedback loops are part of our psyche as humans.

Yet if you focus on those feedback loops, it can become caustic and harmful. You start to assign meaning to every interaction, and you start keeping score; you start feeling like you’re owed. Taken far enough, this becomes narcissism and entitled behavior, and can become so even if you’re not aware of the transactional interactions.

My advice is to intentionally take the hit. Purposefully say, “Okay, people are transactional: I will try to fill their needs as if I myself am not transactional, because the resentment from their failures costs me more than the failures themselves.”

This is not all the advice, however.

There have to be limits. This is sanity. Live as if those around you are transactional, but as if you are not, until the imbalance is intentional or too great to ignore.

You get to protect yourself at some point.

It’s nice to do the dishes for your friend… but if the friend starts expecting you to do the dishes with nothing in return, you’re not their friend, you’re their unpaid maid. That’s unfair to you. You get to say no. You get to say “do your own dishes,” and if they get upset about it, well, that’s… honestly on them.

You have the right to refuse, because that gives you an out; you get to escape the conditions that build up resentment. And you should, as soon as you recognize them.

Wisdom would suggest bringing it up, of course; you’d mention gently that there’s an imbalance in the relationship, and the other party gets to address the imbalance; if they don’t, well, that’s clear enough; they’re using you and don’t value you, and there’s no reason to abuse yourself.

So that’s my “relationship advice,” and it’s offered from a place of experience; I can look at friends and people I’ve lost over the years and map out how I failed at this advice, and I can point to my own scars as a result.

Love others, and love yourself, and behave accordingly, with as few demands and expectations as you can, but don’t allow that to harm you or anyone else.

On Acting Wrongly

George Bernard Shaw, a playwright from around the time of World War I, is given credit for saying, “Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”

It’s good advice that few seem to consider.

A few years back, when the news was full of such “happy” events as suicide bombings and such, someone asked me casually what I’d do if God were to ask me to go kill someone. Like, if I heard what I knew was the voice of God saying, “Those people there: kill them.”

Note that “happy events” referred to in the previous block are… actually not happy events at all. I find them tragic. The use of “happy events” is sarcasm, and I find it appalling that I feel like I need to explain that because of the Inquisition.

My response was that I’d say, “No, you do it. You’ve got a lot more experience than I do, you’d do a better job. You want it done, you get right on it.”

It’s not that I’m afraid to act. I do things that I believe are “commanded by God” all the time: I am kind to people to the best of my ability, I try to help where I am able and in whatever way I can. I don’t consider myself a righteous man, a tzaddik, but I try to act in such a way that others might be inspired to act the same.

It doesn’t work.

It’s too easy to aspire to low behavior; being kind is so much work, and involves so much forgiveness, and it’s easier to just be angry when people think and do harmful things.

It’s much more fun to denigrate someone who thinks differently or acts differently than it is to actually reach out to that person and try to understand why or maybe even help them do better than they have done.

Yet I try to be hard-headed about it. I want my windows to be clean, as Shaw says, because I want to see a clean, bright world. Leave grit and dirt and awfulness for the movies. If I want noir it’s out there; I don’t want to be able to get it by watching the evening news.

It’s not a perfect world, nor can it be, I think… but if we try, if we attempt by ourselves to be a small touch of the light we want to see in the world, we can make it better, bit by bit.

It only takes restraint at first. If someone says something awful, or stupid… imagine walking along with them, understanding why they might say something awful or stupid. That allows you to forgive them.

Then imagine being where they are and being able to say, “There’s a better way.” Imagine inspiring someone to do better, into trying. That’s helping them “clean their windows,” and it cleans yours.

The world is a harsh place; your desire won’t put food on your table, won’t find you love, won’t help you become what you desire to be. You have to desire, but you have to act.

Observing all of the evil in the world isn’t enough. You have to be good. It doesn’t require that you become perfect; goodness knows I’m not perfect. I fail to help everyone around me, because I can’t – I’m tired, I need help myself.

But I can say that I try, with a clean conscience. I can say that I actively try to harm none, even those people whose views I disagree with on a core level. There are certainly some I would struggle with, but most of the people with whom I disagree would be people I’d be able to break bread with, and have a cordial conversation; heck, I’d love that. It’d be worlds better than arguing over minutiae on Facebook.

I know, I know, I’m rambling. I’m just trying to process recent events, which are distressing and feel faintly final, mostly because I’m struggling to see how people are trying to actually make things better, instead of just trying to win.

Karmic Inertia

I find that I really wish that there was a sort of Law of Karma like there is for Thermodynamics. Just imagine what the world would be like if the harm you wished upon others was visited on you at the same time.

You want someone else to suffer? Easy! The only cost is that you get to suffer in the same way, proportionately.

(The proportionate bit is important: otherwise you might wish that someone else would lose a thousand dollars, which might mean them losing their house, while you have a cool $5k in the bank; you can tolerate the loss but they can’t! But if it’s proportionate, that means you’d suffer in equal measure to them: if they had $800 and you caused them to lose $1k, well, you’d be losing more than your $5k as well.)

Want someone else to get cancer and die? Well, you’re a LITTLE better off than them, now, because at least you have foreknowledge and can line up your burial ahead of time.

OR….. maybe you’d sit back and think “Do I really want someone else to suffer? Is it worth it, for real?” — my guess is that the answer would usually be a resounding “no.” At the very least, the ill-wishes you had for others would be more “annoying” than severe – you’d say things like “I hope their coffee’s too cold” instead of “I wish they were dead.”

It’s a pity this karmic dynamic isn’t a real thing. Instead, when you wish ill on someone else, well, you become an ickier, gross person… and that’s it, and the scum that lines your soul is easy to hide.

“People are stupid; get over it”

One of the things I tell my kids all the time, in an attempt to help them cope, is “people are stupid; get over it.” For a long time they saw this as being cynical; in some ways they still do, but they’ve also matured enough to see it for what it is: coping with unavoidable idiocy.

The thing is, the sentiment isn’t actually true; it’s just an apparent truth.

What’s the difference between an actual truth and an apparent truth? An actual truth is rigid, deductive, verifiable; an apparent truth is “good enough.” I might say “that line is roughly represented as y=2x” and be apparently true – while the actual truth might be y=1.99x. I’m saying here that people aren’t actually stupid all that often, but if you act as if they are, everything more or less hangs together. This paragraph, by the way, would be “apparently true” at best. Perception against assertion.

I know very few actually stupid people. (I know some, but certainly not enough to make a general statement about people as a whole.) Yet everyone I know – including me – is capable of being amazingly stupid on a regular basis. That “regular basis” is where the defensiveness of “people are stupid” comes in handy.

By accepting that people can be stupid at pretty much any moment, I learn to not take offense quite so easily as I might. This justification makes me easier to get along with – or so I hope! – and certainly reduces how argumentative I can be.

And I can be argumentative. I have my own narrative, after all, just like anyone else does, and I respond to challenges to that narrative just like most people do: my reptilian brain kicks into fight or flight mode, and I bristle with thoughts that start with “Let me tell you why you’re wrong…”

But if I have that “people are stupid” mantra in my head, I get to see the challenges in multiple ways, most of them useful.

First, I get to see them as the mutterings of a wayward and ignorant child. People are stupid, after all.

Then I get to consider the challenge for what it is, on its own merits. Maybe it’s valid, after all, because if people are stupid, and I am a person, too, then it follows logically that I, too, am stupid sometimes.

After that I get to apply the second half of the mantra, and “get over it,” no matter what the “it” is. 

Is it that I was being unfair in my criticism of the mote in my neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in my own? Well, I’m stupid, too, but I have to live with myself, too: get over it. I will do my best, but in the end I have to get over it.

Is it that people wanted to comment before understanding? Well… okay, that’s stupid, but get over it! They’re following their own narrative, after all, and maybe they thought I was threatening one of their sacred cows; who knows, maybe I was. In the end, I have to live with them, unless I’ve decided that there is no compromise with error… a position I equate with evil.

By the way, “compromise” here does not mean “I accept something that is wrong as being right.” You might believe that having a certain skin color, or a certain belief, makes one individual worth less than another; if that’s what you think, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. There is no way you’re going to convince me that an individual’s physical characteristics are indicative of value. But even if you’re a racist, I can get along with you without agreeing with you; a wall does nobody any good, and there’s no way I can ever convince you of what I believe is true if we can’t communicate. “I’d rather you were dead” is just as evil as other evils can be.

To me, “people are stupid, get over it!” is cynical, but useful. It accepts a bleak perspective on humanity, while enabling empathy and rational response. I’d rather hold a more positive view if I could – but then again, it’d be easier to hold a more positive mantra in mind if people weren’t, you know, so insistent on being stupid in the first place.

Newsblur; Fricassee; old friends – 14/Feb/2019

Things I’m thinking about:

RSS Feeds

I’ve started using Newsblur again. I shut off Facebook a while back for various reasons (nothing drastic, just… tired, mostly), so my news has been supplied by a fairly limited set of channels.

Newsblur fixes that. It’s not just Newsblur, of course; you can use any of a number of feed readers, but Newsblur is the one that works best for me.

I’m enjoying it so far.

With that said: if you know of any sites that are new, flashy, interesting, relevant for … well, news, visual arts, philosophy, creating music, Python or Java programming, let me know! I may already have them in my feed, but I might not, and I want to grow my list of sources if I can.


I looked up what a fricassee was, because I used it as a sort of joke dish. However, my use was copied from, like, Bugs Bunny back in the 1970s; I had no idea what a fricassee actually is.

Now I do:

A dish of stewed or fried pieces of meat served in a thick white sauce.

We learn together! (Unless, of course, you already knew what a fricassee was.)

Old Friends

I have no intention of living in the past – the “good old days” were the “bad old days” too – but I miss those friends with whom I’ve lost communication.

Social networking helps in a few cases, but it’s also so…ephemeral that it doesn’t really establish the connections that made us friends in the first place.

C’est la vie – a phrase I use far too often, I think.


Things I think about sometimes:

  • I love the idea of being someone who might be described like “He only cares about the things that matter,” except loving that particular idea means that I… care about things that don’t matter. Darn it.
  • My DJ name is rather obvious: “43rd to the Q.”
  • Finally got a new phone! I’m thrilled – now I expect to make and receive calls consistently. I’m happy enough with it that I actually ordered a specialty case from Carved. Of course, now I’ve got to learn to use it again…
  • The culture we’re engendering, where being called out is a threat from every vector, is incredibly dangerous. But people keep feeding the mindset, because calling people out is fun, satisfying, rewarding… it’s “speaking truth to power,” ignoring a basic truth: we’re ALL guilty when the metric isn’t fixed and history remembers everything. The wheel turns, folks. If you see something offensive, especially if it’s from “the past” – which might be as recent as a few years ago, given Internet time – you might want to scowl to yourself and say “… people!” privately, instead of howling publicly…. because the beast that howls is coming for you, too. It’s coming for you, too. My goodness, we have people apologizing for having been born now.

Lorelai, Maven changelog plugin, the government shutdown

Things I have travelled across:

  • github-issues-maven-plugin generates a markdown file with a list of closed issues for a target milestone. Useful for creating release notes.
  • The death of a child is always heart-wrenching. 🙁 Rest in peace, little one, even though I only knew you through friends of friends.
  • Bless social media for bringing people together… except social media as a benefit assumes that people are basically good. If we can learn anything from the arc of human history, it’s that many people are basically good… and the bad actors ruin it for everyone. Social media is affected negatively by the presence of a few bad actors, and there’s no real way to fix it that I can see. Every fix is worse than the original problem.
  • I don’t quite understand why people are feeling victorious over Trump ending the government shutdown: all this means is that – for once – he adulted first. He, unlike his political opponents, managed to put the good of the country above his political aims. Sure, it was late… but he still got there first. Way to “win,” Democrats?

Places, football, Facebook

Things I have learned recently, I think:

  • Every so often, you figure out that you are exactly where you are supposed to be at this particular time. That can be reassuring or frightening, I suppose, depending on your outlook.
  • College football this year has been boring. Sure, I’m affected by not having a pony in the race (FSU missed out on bowl eligibility for the first time in close to four decades) but the quality of the bowls themselves hasn’t been that great: questionable officiating, a number of blowouts and games where the winners were easily predictable, and so forth. I don’t remember watching a single game that I’ve really enjoyed, apart from watching it with my wife and my son – that part’s been great. But I’m glad the bowls are over except for the championship. One more to go… and this one (Alabama vs. Clemson) gives me hope that it’s a competition.
  • I used one of the spray can dusters this morning on the MacBook Pro; it’s running more quietly, woohoo! — but I can’t get the taste of the residue off of my lips. No, I didn’t spray it at myself; it’s just in the air. Bleugh.
  • Yes, I deactivated my Facebook account and no, nothing’s wrong. It just takes too much time and attention away from other things.
  • I still don’t care for the Gutenberg editor in WordPress. What I’d really like is AsciiDoctor for WordPress… but I don’t know PHP, don’t want to learn PHP, and the available plugins for it are kinda eh, as far as I can tell. The last updates for the AsciiDoc plugins for WordPress are three years old… not a good sign.